The image of Liszt at the piano has been a favorite with artists. This article examines two paintings: an 1868 painting of Liszt at a Chickering piano by G. P. A. Healy and a 1919 painting of Liszt at a Steinway piano by John C. Johansen. Due to recent publications, the Chickering painting and its story are fairly well-known. In contrast, the Steinway painting is almost unknown. Healy’s portrait (1868) was done in his studio in Rome as Liszt sat playing for him. While Healy had seen Liszt’s Chickering piano, the instrument in his studio was not that piano and, despite the name “Chickering” on the fallboard, the painting does not faithfully convey the details of Liszt’s Chickering. Johansen’s portrait (1919) was done by an artist who had never met Liszt and almost certainly had never seen his Steinway piano. Because of the Chicago connection, this article proposes that Johansen took his inspiration from Healy.
When László Vikárius sent me the list of titles and abstracts to help me find a topic for the talk I had agreed to give at the “Bartók and the Piano” symposium, Virág Büky’s title (“Mozart, Ditta, and the Third Piano Concerto”) leapt out at me and
The last decade of the eighteenth century was a transitional period in the political as well as the cultural history of Europe. Aesthetic values underwent far-reaching changes everywhere: the field of keyboard music and keyboard performance was no exception. In Vienna, the once legendary performances of W.A. Mozart already seemed out of date for some musicians before the turn of the century. ‘Pearly’ playing gave way to singing legato style, and the occasional use of damper pedals. Of course, the appearance of the young Beethoven made a profound effect on the Viennese piano scene. He competed with four pianists on the keyboard (Gelinek, Wölfl, Steibelt, Vogler) in the course of his first ten years in Vienna: through the contemporary descriptions of these events we can learn a great deal about the current styles of piano playing. The keyboard works of the pianist-composers of the time varied in their style and level of craftsmanship. Textures became denser, and more demanding to play. The general style approached the tone of the early nineteenth century, Schubert’s in particular. Of the younger generation, Hummel was the first who performed on Viennese stages before the end of the century. After 1800, the significant Viennese debut of three young artists, Kalkbrenner, Czerny and Moscheles, initiated a new kind of bravura in pianism, which prepared the era of the instrumental virtuosity of the nineteenth century.
In her book about Bartók’s American years Agatha Fasset recalls the composer attesting to his second wife Ditta Pásztory that her piano playing “comes to the nearest of all” to his own style admonishing her “to preserve this style, keep it alive, keep it going.” Pásztory’s discography (containing recordings from the 1960s) testifies that she took Bartók’s assignment seriously. The first part of this paper gives a short description of Pásztory’s formative years as a pianist and her long apprenticeship under Bartók’s guidance. The second part, analysing a few of her recordings will attempt to find out how she succeeded in preserving Bartók’s manner of performance.
There is a gap separating Kodály's Seven Pieces for Piano, op. 11 from his Nine Pieces for Piano, op. 3. The differences of style, structure, and texture cannot be explained in terms of development, let alone progress in any sense. With op. 11, Kodály undertakes a shift of paradigms from instrumental principles to a kind of vocal orientation within instrumental music. Op. 3 stands in the tradition of autonomous instrumental music, of Liszt and French music in particular, and displays similarities to early piano works by Bartók. In op. 11, that instrumental paradigm and its core principle of indirect expression are called into question. Instead Kodály aims at direct expression, vocality on the piano. Since a piano cannot sing, the pieces op. 11 can be seen as failing in terms of Classical-Romantic composing standards. This paper argues that in dealing with the distinction between instrumental and vocal music, Kodály takes up a major topic of Musical Modernism (Carl Dahlhaus) and exposes himself deliberately to the risky question of “When is Art?” (Nelson Goodman).
This paper examines a painting by the prominent Biedermeier painter Josef Danhauser, Liszt at the Piano, a unique visual document of the Romantic generation’s cultic relationship and collective memory surrounding the virtually holy predecessor, Beethoven. It demonstrates the Beethoven reverence of (1) the commissioner Conrad Graf, a piano maker, who gave an instrument to Beethoven, (2) the painter Danhauser, who took the death mask of the German composer, and (3) Liszt, who considered himself the artistic heir to Beethoven. Although it is a well-known and thoroughly researched painting, its re-examination is still worthwhile. Focusing on aspects of cultural history, the contemporary reception of the painting should be reconsidered from a synthesizing point of view utilizing the results of art historical iconography and musicology. As a kind of cultural study, the paper attempts to demonstrate the background and motives that lead to the creation of the painting. I shall place the painting in the wider context of the history of ideas which is represented by the art-religious experience Liszt and his Paris companions gained from Beethoven’s music. An evaluation of the narrower, historical background — the Beethoven cult triggered by the piano concerts given by Liszt in Vienna in 1839–1840 — will also be discussed.
The central hypothesis of this paper is that rhythmic patterns in Bartók’s melodies correlate with intervallic structure. Recognition of a motif or phrase as a distinct musical idea depends on its rhythmic character as well as its ordering of pitches. Rhythmic asymmetry is also significant to the rhythm-pitch interrelation theory. In Bartók’s music, rhythm often varies while the melodic identity is retained. Equally, his use of chromaticism and inversion as forms of melodic variation often occur with the rhythmic identity intact. Many rhythmic patterns form phrases that undergo such extreme changes of pitch that the phrase is defined by rhythm. The analysis of the first movement’s exposition of the Concerto no. 1 for Piano and Orchestra (1926) examines the extent to which rhythm is organised according to melody.
Performance markings in the vocal lines of Bartók’s compositions are surprisingly sparse compared to how carefully the instrumental parts are furnished with detailed instructions to indicate the desired interpretation. The few markings in vocal parts, especially in the folksong settings, are mostly meant to create special effects. One possible explanation for this discrepancy might be found in the spontaneous, simple performance of the folk singers Bartók came across during his research. He presumably intended his vocal folksong settings to be performed in the same unaffected way that characterized the original folk performance. Comparison of recordings of folksongs and the sound recordings that preserved Bartók’s vocal folksong settings with the composer at the piano can put this assumption to the test.
By the time of his death in 1827, the image of Beethoven as we recognise him today was firmly fixed in the minds of his contemporaries, and the career of Liszt was beginning to flower into that of the virtuosic performer he would be recognised as by the end of the 1830s. By analysing the seminal artwork Liszt at the Piano of 1840 by Josef Danhauser, we can see how a seemingly unremarkable head-and-shoulders bust of Beethoven in fact holds the key to unlocking the layers of commentary on both Liszt and Beethoven beneath the surface of the image. Taking the analysis by Alessandra Comini as a starting point, this paper will look deeper into the subtle connections discernible between the protagonists of the picture. These reveal how the collective identities of the artist and his painted assembly contribute directly to Beethoven’s already iconic status within music history around 1840 and reflect the reception of Liszt at this time. Set against the background of Romanticism predominant in the social and cultural contexts of the mid 1800s, it becomes apparent that it is no longer enough to look at a picture of a composer or performer in isolation to understand its impact on the construction of an overall identity. Each image must be viewed in relation to those that preceded and came after it to gain the maximum benefit from what it can tell us.
Mária Comensoli, who studied under Bartók in the mid-1920s, reports that her teacher used “peculiar fingerings and peculiar wrist and arm technique.” Examining such comments and the recordings of the composer-pianist, it becomes clear that Bartók played the piano partly according to the 19th-century performance practice. He frequently played chords in arpeggio, even when there were no markings of arpeggio in the score, and he respected the tone color of each finger by relying on the technique of leaping. Contemporary documents suggest that one of Bartók’s technical advantages was the flexibility of his wrists. In Bartók’s case it may have been a fruit of a conscious training by István Thomán. The writings of the Liszt-pupil Thomán suggest that, like his master, he valued the “active” use of wrists, even though he basically supported the modern, “synthetic” piano technique propagated by Breithaupt, who consistently recommended the “passive” use of the wrists. It is likely that, through Thomán, Bartók learned many things from the 19th-century performance practice.